Electoral Concerns, Special Interests and Illegal Immigration

20  May 2010    4:00 pm CEST

Giovanni Faccini, Erasmus University Rotterdam

In cooperation with:


wiiw, Rahlgasse 3, 1060 Vienna, lecture hall (entrance from the ground floor)


As of 2008, an estimated twelve million immigrants live illegally in the United States, and large numbers of undocumented foreigners reside also in other advanced destination countries. If governments are not able or willing to stick to their official immigration policy, why do they set such a policy in the first place? The purpose of this paper is to address this apparent puzzle, by developing a political agency model, in which there is uncertainty on the potential supply of immigrants, and politicians - who face a re-election - can either share the preferences of the median voter or be captured by a pro-business lobby. We show that, if a pro-median politician is in power, illegal immigration can only occur as a result of uncertainty. If a pro-business politician sets instead the migration policy, he might find it optimal to announce a binding quota in order to be re-elected, and not enforce it in order to favor a business lobby.Thus, strategic considerations by elected politicians might play an important role in explaining the apparent inability of governments to implement social immigration policies and the large resulting number of illegal immigrants.